Light and Dry When It’s Wet and Cold

Labor Day marks the official end of hiking season in the U.S.

Which means that after Labor Day, it’s a great time for a hike: the thin crowds and Indian summers of September make for choice campsites and high miles during cooler days, without having to add a lot of weight to your pack. Nighttime temperatures remain reasonably warm and winter weather hasn’t arrived yet.

October gets a little sketchy. Still a popular time for day hikers, but for the most part, seasonal mountain backpackers have all but left the wilds.

In the Rockies and Cascades, November really gets into what we call the "shoulder" season: too cold, windy, and wet to pack ultralight (and leave the rain pants home) but too warm and wet to take advantage of drier winter conditions (and enjoy soft shell breathability).

And so, at some point, you just have to bite the bullet and take a full suite of wet weather gear: gaiters, rain mitts, rain jacket, rain pants, and waterproof shoes.

This was my (necessary) strategy for a November hike of the Wonderland Trail: 90+ miles of wet (right), cold, slushy, and muddy walking.

My wet weather gear:

  • Integral Designs eVENT Rain Jacket (10 oz)
  • MontBell UL Rain Pants (7 oz)
  • Integral Designs eVENT Shortie Gaiters (2 oz)
  • Bozeman Mountain Works eVENT Rain Mitts (1 oz, prototypes)
  • Brasher Supalite GTX Boots (32 oz/pr)

RyanmtrainierDry, warm, comfortable, and light! Compare this 52 oz wet weather kit to my wintertime crossing of the Olympic Mountains in 1988:

  • REI Switchback Gore-Tex Jacket (22 oz)
  • REI Switchback Gore-Tex Rain Pants (16 oz)
  • Outdoor Research Crocodile Gore-Tex Gaiters (10 oz)
  • Outdoor Research Gore-Tex Mitt Shells (4 oz)
  • La Sportiva Makalu Boots (48 oz)

That’s a 50% savings in weight.

Here’s the irony and surprise, however. That 1980s-vintage 100 oz kit hasn’t lightened up much. Every overnight hiker I met on my Wonderland Trail hike was sporting heavy, mass market gear that hasn’t lightened up much in the past 20 years.

But it’s not the fault of the manufacturers: every manufacturer makes lighter stuff these days.

But somehow, customers still seem to refuse to listen, or are otherwise failing to hear, about the benefits of lighter gear.

My message to you: don’t avoid the shoulder season because you have to carry an extra pound or two of stuff. It’s worth the sacrifice: November and December open up vast opportunities for those that can stay warm and dry – and light – in the cold and wet.